Christmas is a time for giving and helping those less fortunate, and no one knows this better than the Allendale United Methodist Church congregation in St. Petersburg.
Every year as the holidays approach, members of the congregation gather to assemble and deliver "ditty bags" filled with essential items to those in need. Ditty bags originally were bags of essentials given to sailors before they went on long sea voyages.
The ministry is organized and headed by a coalition between the United Methodist Women and United Methodist Cooperative Ministries Suncoast. It was started in 2012 and has nearly doubled in size since its inception.
"We are very ambitious about helping people," said Winnie Pfister, head of the Allendale chapter of UMW.
UMCM Suncoast is tasked with finding specific recipients for the bags.
"I feel grateful for the opportunity that this ministry provides. Others have located people in need, and we get to help them," Pfister said.
About 300 bags are delivered to homeless shelters and impoverished farm workers across the state. The bags include items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste, soap, deodorant and toilet paper, as well as socks and shirts.
Bags are customized for men, women, boys and girls. In addition to the standard essential items, children receive toys and school supplies.
"We offer personal things that can make life a little better for those in terrible circumstances," Pfister said.
Most of the bags are distributed to recipients across the state by UMCM Suncoast, but few of the bags are hand-delivered to local recipients by the Allendale women.
The Allendale congregation is heavily involved in the creation of the bags. Each September, the church hosts a "stringing party," where the bags are threaded with string so they can be easily opened, closed and carried.
In October a "stuffing party" is held to fill the bags. They always serve food and refreshments at the parties, and anyone is welcome to attend.
"We know we could accomplish the task (of stringing and stuffing the bags) with less people, but the party gives us a chance to have fellowship with one another," Pfister said.
She added that they are always looking for new ways to acquire items for the bags, as well as donations to help fund the ministry. Currently, the UMW primarily pays for the ministry.
Jordan Chronister, freelance writer based in Tampa, FL
One of seven apportioned giving opportunities of The United Methodist Church, the World Service Fund is the financial lifeline to a long list of Christian mission and ministry throughout the denomination. Through the Four Areas of Focus churches are Engaging in ministry with the poor with their communities in ways that are transformative.